Concentrating on Saturday qualifying, then Sunday's race.
Toyota Racing got the final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship underway with two 90-minute practice sessions for the Six Hours of Sao Paulo at Interlagos.
After a day dedicated to gathering data on the TS040 HYBRID and its Michelin tyres, the team will work hard to improve performance prior to tomorrow’s qualifying and, more significantly, Sunday’s race.
The #8 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi ended the day the quicker of the two cars, in fifth, with the #7 of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway just 0.151secs behind in sixth.
The team goes into the eighth and final race weekend of the season targeting the manufacturers’ World Championship, to add to the drivers’ title already secured by Anthony and Sébastien.
Toyota on top
Toyota leads the standings by 40 points with a maximum of 44 points available in Brazil, meaning the minimum requirement to take the championship is to have one car classified at the end of the race.
However, after three successive victories and five from seven races so far this year, the team aims to secure the World Championship with a strong finish on an Interlagos circuit where it won its first WEC race, in 2012.
Despite showers earlier in the week, first practice in Sao Paulo began in warm and dry conditions, giving drivers a good opportunity to experience the circuit for the first time since it was resurfaced earlier in the year.
With more grip available, lap times immediately showed an improvement on last year and they continued to get better as the team worked to improve mechanical and aerodynamic set-up options in the first session.
Both TS040 HYBRIDs ran reliably and completed a combined 84 laps, around 360km, with Stéphane’s lap in the #7 earning sixth and Anthony’s effort in the #8 putting his car fourth.
The evening session began with a threat of rain in the air so both cars got to work immediately with their programmes of tyre and set-up evaluation.
A few drops of rain did fall during the opening 30 minutes but dry tyres remained the best choice as both cars completed long stints to gauge tyre performance on the new Interlagos surface.
Those long stints racked up the mileage on the shortest track of the year for the WEC grid. The two TS040 HYBRIDs completed a further 117 laps, taking their combined total to 866km.
By the end of the day’s running, last year’s overall best time from the weekend of 1min 20.784 seconds had been comfortably beaten. When the chequered flag fell, Sébastien’s best lap earned fifth for #8, with Alex going quickest in the #7 for sixth.
Saturday sees final practice (10.00-11.00) and qualifying (15.20-15.45) while the six-hour race starts on Sunday at 13.00.
Alex Wurz: “It was a challenging day for us but in general a very interesting one. We saw that the revised track here changed the picture of car performance drastically today. This shows that strong performances, like those we have shown in most races this season, are really down to preparation and tuning the car to find the best compromise for each track. Different lay-outs definitely give a different picture of performance. Clearly we still have work to do here to get where we want to be.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “Today went reasonably well and we did a lot of laps which is good. We improved the car quite a lot from the start of first practice which is a positive sign for tomorrow. We are pushing mainly for the race and we want to be confident with the car on Sunday to get a strong result. We saw today that Porsche and Audi are very fast here so it’s not going to be easy but we will give everything.”
Mike Conway: “It’s good to be back in the car again here in Sao Paulo. I know the track from LMP2 but now it’s been resurfaced it has a lot more grip. I didn’t get too many laps today but the balance of the car feels okay. But looking at the timing screens we have some work to do as the other cars seem pretty quick. We will go through everything and try to find more pace, then we’ll see where we end up tomorrow after qualifying.”
Anthony Davidson: “It was quite a difficult day today and we are not where we thought we would be. It seems like this race could be our biggest challenge so far this year but we are ready to fight. The car was working really well, it feels great to drive and we can push every lap. Normally you would be very happy but when you look at the lap times we can’t be. Now we have to see what we can do to improve.”
Sébastien Buemi: “Clearly it was a tricky day for us. We are not as quick as we hoped we would be so we have to work hard to find more performance. At least we could run through our programme with no issues so we have a lot of data to work with. Both our rivals are more competitive here and we could see that in the lap times. On the positive side, the new track surface is much quicker; it has more grip but less tyre degradation.”